SIAM News Blog

Innovative Industrial Manufacturing Opportunities for Applied Mathematicians

By Lina Sorg

In today’s technology-driven world, powerful algorithms and advanced computational tools are inspiring increasingly more innovations in a wide variety of real-world industry settings. As a result, industrial manufacturing with novel applications provides a unique, profitable opportunity for applied mathematicians and computational scientists from all types of backgrounds. During a minisymposium presentation at the 2023 SIAM Conference on Computational Science and Engineering (CSE23), which is currently taking place in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, Dirk Hartmann of Siemens AG overviewed his own career trajectory and spoke about the value of applied mathematics in 21st century industry.

At the 2023 SIAM Conference on Computational Science and Engineering, which is currently taking place in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, Dirk Hartmann of Siemens AG overviews his career trajectory. SIAM photo.
Hartmann, who is one of the Organizing Committee co-chairs for CSE23, began his talk by reminiscing about his childhood career aspirations; he had dreamed of developing impressive machines and building large technologies to benefit society. Despite this engineering spirit, he initially pursued physics and switched to applied mathematics (with a focus on the life sciences) when physics became too abstract. After earning a Ph.D. in mathematics, Hartmann spent two years in a postdoctoral position while determining his next steps. He decided that he wanted to see the direct impacts of his work on a faster timeline than academia traditionally allows; upon reflecting on his original technological ambitions, he began to think about industrial settings in which he could apply his accumulated experience in mathematics and physics.

It was then that Hartmann discovered Siemens. With a slogan of “technology to transform the everyday,” the company seemed like the perfect setting for him. “Siemens really positions itself as a technology company,” he said. “It takes technology and uses that technology to make the everyday a little bit better.” Hartmann explained that three of the organization’s core technologies rely heavily upon pioneering applications of mathematics: Simulation and Digital Twin, Data Analytics and Artificial Intelligence, and Automation. Though he has spent most of his time at Siemens working in the realm of Simulation and Digital Twin, Hartmann recently transitioned to the business side of things as a Technical Fellow and Head of Technology Innovation for the Simulations and Test Solutions segment.

Next, Hartmann commented on several types of career scenarios that mathematicians in industrial manufacturing might experience. “There is a huge gap between the state of the art as we know it as mathematicians and the state of use, which offers an enormous opportunity to do innovations and realize things,” he said. “It’s really nice to see.” He recalled an additive manufacturing project from several years ago that emphasized the use of fewer materials to produce lighter, more sustainable designs. The team—including a student intern—built a prototype design tool that turned into the student’s master’s thesis and Ph.D. thesis. The tool was eventually established as a physical product, and the original student is the technical lead. 

Dirk Hartmann of Siemens AG discusses three of Siemen’s core technologies that rely heavily upon the novel use of applied mathematics: Simulation and Digital Twin, Data Analytics and Artificial Intelligence, and Automation. SIAM photo.
Sometimes, however, industry mathematicians might struggle to get involved with certain product development scenarios. In other cases, product managers might resist or even reject proposed ideas. When this type of pushback occurs, individuals must make extra efforts to talk to potential customers, explore many use cases, and explain the mechanics of the imagined product. “The mathematics is not always as recognized as it could or should be,” Hartmann said. “But I really enjoy trying to find the sweet spot, discussing opportunities with people, and turning them into a product.”

Though he isn’t exactly building the types of machines that he imagined in his youth, Hartmann is still satisfied with his ongoing contributions to society. He enjoys bringing mathematical concepts into real products within a five to 10-year timeline and appreciates the freedom to shape his own trajectory within Siemens. “If you would like to go into industry, try it out and make your job fit to you,” he said. 

Hartmann also credits his mathematics Ph.D. for much of his success because it forced him to think creatively, exhibit persistence when seeking out and shaping personal opportunities, and find his own way with limited guidance. “Innovation has quite a lot to do with digitalization, using algorithms to program machines, and giving engineers the right tools to innovate,” he said. “I really believe that—at least for a tiny piece—I contribute to people using these tools to make the world a little better."

Lina Sorg is the managing editor or SIAM News.
blog comments powered by Disqus